When a hurricane interfered with our annual trip to Block Island, we swung into Plan B.
Good friend Gail and I aimed the car west to Cooperstown on an obliging gorgeous early fall morning. Hungry after marveling at the size of the Bambino’s uniform while visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame, we drove the few well-tended blocks to the historic Otesaga Hotel on Lake Otsego for a late lunch.
At the top of the circular driveway, a uniformed young man at the majestic pillared portico took our car. The elevator off the elegant lobby carried us to level LL and the Hawkeye Bar & Grill.
When I reserved the table a few days earlier, I had requested a table near a window so we could see Lake Otsego. But the large outdoor patio was open, so Gail and I chose a table in the outside overlooking the green lawn and blue lake.
About three dozen black patio tables with pale, tannish-yellow umbrellas were scattered around the area. Our server Thomas brought us menus.
Though we glanced at page two, we focused on the first page since that was where all-day items were listed. The flip side included the heartier, after-4 p.m. specialties plus seasonal cocktails, craft beers and agricultural partners.
Though most items listed on the menu would be considered conventional, Thomas described them using the word “classic” — the ordinary made extraordinary by the Hawkeye staff.
Thomas reported that the soup of the day was winter squash and coconut milk bisque ($5).
Steaming and golden, it arrived at the table dotted with flecks of orange carrots. Although someone in the kitchen had a heavy hand with the salt shaker, the soup was otherwise perfect.
Gail’s heirloom tomato salad with fresh mozzarella ($8) would be designated “caprese salad” in most restaurants. But here, broccoli rabe pesto was artistically smeared on the white plate, and a slice of a large tomato, a quarter of a smaller one, and a few halved cherry tomatoes were arranged with a slice and balls of mozzarella. A few tiny radish shoots with heart-shaped leaves peeked out from the tomatoes and cheese. Red, white and green — and almost too pretty to eat.
Almost. It was simple, elegant and a perfect accompaniment to any warm-weather meal.
The description of the smoked salmon stone-fired thin crust 12” pizza ($15) enticed me. Lox and bagels reinvented. From bottom to top: The crust was made even crisper with a touch of oil. The well-melted mozzarella and parmesan was topped with small, thin slices of salmon and dotted with capers and caviar. Rivulets of white crème fraiche and miniature branches of deep green dill provided contrast with the peachy orange of the salmon. A lunch by itself.
Gail’s fresh fig salad ($10) and vegetable tart ($10) arrived simultaneously. The salad featured jewel-like fig halves nestled among leaves of arugula and chunks of tart green Granny Smith apples, white feta cheese and candied walnuts, all lightly dressed with balsamic-mustard vinaigrette.
Her roasted vegetable tart ($10) consisted of a rustic Spurbeck cheddar crust, which enclosed a medley of Yukon Gold potatoes, kale, asparagus and mushrooms topped with small dollops of goat cheese, and accompanied by a side of heirloom carrot salad. Long slivers of carrots in multi-shades of orange were intertwined with wispy fronds of pale green frisee — a delight to both eye and palate.
My Simply Done burger ($11), ordered medium rare, was actually rare. But I was not distressed.
Their signature blend of meat had been ground that day from sirloin, chuck and short rib. It was presented on a piece of butcher’s paper cut to fit a slab of wood, with all the accoutrements arranged in a circular fashion resembling so many paint daubs on an artist’s palette: lettuce, tomato, red onion, burger, pickle, ketchup, mustard, potato salad. Hawkeye’s potato salad was a blend of red bliss potatoes, with bits of celery and carrots all held together with a liquid mayonnaise-based dressing.
I owe it to our Gazette readers to complete the picture with dessert. Gail’s choice was strawberry shortcake ($6.50) with lightly pureed fresh strawberries, topped with a modest amount of whipped cream and a luscious strawberry half served in a small Mason jar.
I ordered a slice of coconut cream pie ($6.50), and it too was almost too pretty to eat.
The pie was arranged on an oval white dish atop a pear-shaped smear of electric orange mango puree and dotted with three large sweet blackberries — a perfect balance of colors, tastes and textures.
I was hoping to complete the meal with espresso, but alas! the Otesaga had none, so Gail and I settled for a sturdy cup of coffee ($2.25).
Considering the variables that comprise a good meal — food, service, ambiance — Hawkeye’s Bar and Grill in the Otesaga Hotel exceled in all three, with too few regrets to mention.
Hawkeye Bar & Grill
WHERE: 60 Lake St., Cooperstown NY 13326, (607) 544-2524, www.otesaga.com
WHEN: Daily 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. (or later, depending on season — see website or call)
HOW MUCH: $76.50 without tax and tip
MORE INFO: Accessible, parking attendant at door, parking lot, ramp, elevator, all major credit cards accepted, sound level permits conversation, large outdoor patio, vegetarian and gluten-free dishes available.